Sigh Bluesday: Orlando Magic hit rock bottom

Jameer Nelson - Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The Magic have reached their nadir, writes Tyler Lashbook in his latest column.

Each week, Tyler Lashbrook will let loose on whatever Orlando Magic subjects capture his interest. Welcome to Ty Tuesday. - ED

The Orlando Magic have rock-bottomed over the last two weeks and are free-falling head first into a dark, depressing pit. In the last eight games, the Magic's opponents have outscored them by an 832-696 margin, or an average of 17 points per game. That's not tanking; that's taking a full-fledged nosedive off the SunTrust Center and smacking right into the pavement at terminal velocity.

But tanking, and all of the complications that come with it, aren't really at work in Orlando. No team wants to lose this many games in a row by this big of a margin and there hasn't really been any questionable "tanking" lineup changes; hell, Jameer Nelson played 39 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, one game after spraining his right index finger. It's just, well, this Magic team is bare of usable talent.

So when injuries happen, yeah, it's tough for the team to keep up. Playing without Nik Vučević (concussion) for the last four games has damaged the team's interior defense beyond repair: opponents have shot 69 percent inside the restricted area in Vučević's absence, the fourth-worst mark in the league during that span. When Vučević plays, opponents are shooting a hair under 58 percent inside the restricted area and 38 percent in the paint, good for the ninth and 12th best mark, respectively, in the league.

And it's not just the defense that has suffered from injuries: the offense is struggling too, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Evan detailed just how bad the offense has been and this streak and offers some suggestions to fixing it, but maybe the only way to fix it is to wait until injuries heal. Arron Afflalo is one of the league's most efficient wing scorers and his loss was bound to hurt the team: in back-to-back blowouts without him, Orlando is scoring just 97 points per 100 possessions and it has registered a paltry 51 percent True Shooting.

There's no other way to word it: Orlando has been awful on both ends of the floor without its two best players. But this streak started a week before either of them were injured. An ugly loss against the powerful Golden State Warriors kick-started this eight game slide, but it was the game that followed--an incomprehensible late collapse against the Cleveland Cavaliers--that really poisoned Orlando. Since then, Orlando has failed to score more than 94 points and has given up more than 100 points in all eight losses.

It's at this point in the season that the team has tumbled to its very lowest.

It's at this point in the season that the team has tumbled to its very lowest. The losses are bad, as we've already highlighted, and beating that nail even further seems like the only thing to do. It's the way the team is losing that's disappointing. Injuries aside, this team looks sad: the defensive rotations are as bad as they've been in two years, the offense is as stagnant and reliant on inefficient long twos as it's ever been, and the energy level on both sides of the floor is sinking to dismal levels.

For entire quarters, it appears as though no one on the team really even wants to be out there. Long jumpers are jacked up without any hint of ball movement; rather than planting hard off-ball screens--a main component of Orlando's motion offense--guys are waving their defenders through like matadors; the body language is, for the most part, dispiriting, with no real fight ever consistently given.

There's no other way that an NBA team can lose eight straight games by an average of 17 points without, for lack of a better term, giving up. The Magic are consistently less talented than their opponents, but the gap there isn't wide enough to go through a streak like this. It's bad for the franchise, bad for the fans, and bad for morale. Building a winning culture--something Rob Hennigan hopes to do--doesn't come by losing as many games by as many points as possible. It comes through fighting and scrapping your way to a couple of upsets.

This was happening early in the season. I wrote about Orlando's feisty start to the season in detail here. That Orlando team--the one that played with a frenzy of energy on both ends of the floor--was who most Magic fans were hoping would show up on a nightly basis, but they haven't showed up in 2014. Wins never were part of this year's plan, but it was the quarreling spirit of a young, ambitious group of guys that was supposed to be the exciting part of this rebuilding season. Orlando wasn't supposed to make the playoffs, but it doesn't matter. This team was supposed to trick Magic fans into thinking it could make that run and if it could have, at least, tricked the Magic faithful then that would have been enough.

So far, however, it hasn't. That's what's been most disappointing this season. There's no tricking Magic fans into thinking this team could make the playoffs; that's long gone. Maybe that's what Orlando fans want--to lose as much as possible regardless of how ugly each contest is--but I highly doubt it. I doubt that any fan is actually OK with turning on their television and expecting a 17-point loss every game. Where's the fun in that?

There have been some encouraging signs in this losing streak: Maurice Harkless has played very well in stretches; Victor Oladipo has racked up a couple of good games; Nelson had a tremendous first half against the Mavs; the team, as a whole, played with a good amount of energy in the second half that same night. But the bad has outweighed the good by a pretty incredible amount and it takes some real digging and stretching to consider any of those encouraging signs as a bright spot.

This takes me back to a comment someone on Orlando Pinstriped Post made. I can't remember exactly how the post went, but it was something along the lines of, "I don't get to watch the team very often and when I do I don't want to feel like it was a waste of my time." As a guy who watches every game, that comment stuck with me. I watch every game because I feel it helps my understanding of the team and I feel obligated as a writer to be as well informed and in tune with the team as possible. For casual observers, though, these last eight games have been a huge waste of time.

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